Reflection

The Resurrection: Disciples to Leaders

empty-tombThe Bible is worthy of glorification. The disciples of Jesus Christ are not. Often we view the disciples as born healers, born preachers and born leaders. The truth is, they were none of these things. What we know of these men is that they were simple, common, unimportant socially; skilled, but individuals of the ordinary. For all intents, they were the middle of the curve, wonderfully average.

Upon witnessing the risen Lord following his resurrection, these disciples are quickly transformed into preachers that convert thousands at a time, healers that publicly display healing powers of the lame and crippled, and leaders of the persecuted, notorious yet thriving early Christian Church. How? How did they suddenly possess the clarity and public speaking power to instruct and preach that which only days prior they could not even comprehend? A message they ran from in fear of persecution and arrest? How did they suddenly possess the power to overcome sickness and forgive sins as God does, in the name of Jesus Christ? The answer is in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are all aware that different people have different skills with clear limitations as to what we can do with them. We know that in order to attain a new skill and use it confidently we must be patient, practice, wait and then practice more. We do not see the disciples take time to hone these skills. They appeared quickly in the characters of these disciples and, when used, their effects were unparalleled in human history. Almost overnight, these men and women became new creations and new people. Without the resurrection, these transformations are unbelievable. The kind of change exhibited in the lives of the disciples is not explainable by logic or reason. The promises of Jesus that the disciples would go on to do greater things in his name, accomplish all they desire for the glory of God in his name, become new creations born again in his name suddenly become possible and suddenly become true with the resurrection.

The Resurrection: Tradition to Transformation

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The lost tomb is one glaring example establishing that the disciples contradicted cultural norms as Israelites and began to blaze new trails in the name of Jesus, but the tomb is only one example of such radical reform. As the Jewish people were frequently raided, overrun, taken hostage, attacked and oppressed throughout history, it became extremely important for leaders to teach the legacy, ancestry and history of the Jewish people to future generations, not merely as a means of cultural emphasis, but to remind the future generations that the people of Israel held a unique place in the Creator God’s plans for humanity. Thus, while the tangible value of Israel wavered throughout history, the commands of God to Moses established in the Torah and the salvation displayed and promised by God to the people of Israel never faded. This longevity was due to the painstaking commitment made by the Jewish people to establish the Law, remind people of the Law and keep the Law. In this climate of extreme rule keeping and obedience, one witnesses in the Gospel narratives the disciples redefining the Law as established by Jesus, and following a new Law or covenant grounded in the deity of Jesus Christ. The disciples regularly break the long-established Law of the Sabbath by their activity on that holy day.

Matthew 12:1-2

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

The new law established in and by Jesus changed the disciples’ paradigm. As a result, because Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, the disciples no longer worshipped the Lord on the common Holy day of Saturday (Sabbath) but moved their worship to Sunday in order to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The disciples revise the long-established tradition of the Passover meal as they not only ate the meal away from their immediate family but also seemed to forget the most important element of the meal, the lamb. Only the direct intervention of God could alter that God-established tradition.

Mark 14:12-25

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take, this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

In following the example of Jesus, the disciples repeatedly break laws concerning the clean and unclean, interacting not only with the physically unclean, such as lepers and the paralyzed, but also with the spiritually unclean, such as the prostitute and tax collector. Without the resurrection, the argument that these humble and unimportant men suddenly decided to simply revise and disobey the laws their forefathers followed for thousands of years becomes ridiculous. One must also consider that if Jesus did in fact die and remain buried in the tomb, the disciples themselves would want nothing to do with such a blasphemer, liar and heretic and would have continued awaiting the true Messiah. However, given the resurrection of Jesus, we find reason to believe that their newfound courage and unusual behavior were motivated by one truth and one reason alone. Jesus resurrected from the dead and fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies that rooted the Law of Moses. They witnessed the sacrifice of God himself as Jesus Christ. They witnessed the resurrection of God himself as Jesus Christ. Thus, the law and the prophets were fulfilled in Christ, and in Christ the disciples were given a new covenant that overruled the previous law and requirements of their forefathers.

Hebrews 9:11-15

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

 

The Resurrection: Respect to Worship

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As discussed previously, belief in the resurrection must not rely on the fact that it is mentioned in the Bible and therefore must be believed. We must look at how the resurrection is described, how that moment changed the attitude of the disciples and the course of human history forever with the emergence of the Christian Church. Along with the analysis of the before-and-after behavior from the disciples, in regards to their hope in Jesus being the long awaited Messiah, we must analyze their behavior in regards to the reality that Jesus was in fact the Messiah they had been waiting for. More specifically, one must observe how their attitudes shifted towards Jesus, alive as the human Messiah, and Jesus, alive as the risen Lord.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, the disciples were faithful in their loyalty to Jesus as their leader and teacher (that is, until his arrest and crucifixion, where only one disciple that we know of was present at Golgotha to witness his actual death). They spoke deep belief in Jesus as the true Messiah and son of God. However, according to their sheepish actions in the face of trial and persecution, these words of  faith prove shallow, spoken out of excitement and naivety.  Against Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion their words are little more than well-meaning lies, their faith in him quickly reduced to respect for him as a great teacher, or possibly a prophet, as believed by the disciples on the road to Emmaus. However, their faith in him as the Lord himself, as the creator God, as Yahweh, is a difficult argument to make.

The disciples’ belief in and understanding of Jesus Christ’s true identity did not settle at the stage of respect. The disciples quickly began to worship Jesus as the risen Lord himself, come down from Heaven as the Son of God. They also began to observe the resurrection as the culmination of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Following the resurrection, the disciples had no doubt that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be. With that truth, their faith exploded and the course of human history was forever changed. Even Peter, who denied Jesus repeatedly before the resurrection, overcame his fear and was convinced of what the resurrection meant:

Acts 2:14-36

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
   and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants[b] and female servants
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
   and signs on the earth below,
   blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
   before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
   “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
   Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

In the face of the resurrected Christ Jesus, the attitude of the disciples changed dramatically from respect and honor to unparalleled and unprecedented worship of a human teacher who suffered, died, was buried and then resurrected, as God himself.

The Resurrection: Grief to Joy

The resurrection defines Christianity. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Christianity then becomes the biggest scam, lie and embarrassment in all of human history. Without the resurrection, there is no remedy to sin: Christianity becomes the weapon of sin. The resurrection can be believed not only through the accounts of the Gospel narratives but by looking at the transformations and changes that affected those involved.

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One of the most striking realities of the Christian faith is the fact that the foundation of said faith is such a tragic and devastating story. The founder of the faith was crucified as a criminal and died. The symbol that became synonymous with the faith is the very instrument that brought its leader to his last breath. At the heart of the Christian story is blood, pain, suffering and sadness. Without the resurrection, the story of Jesus Christ is not only tragic, but to place faith in the story without the resurrection makes no sense whatsoever. Without the resurrection the story of Christianity is just sad. There is no place for joy, no place for hope, and no place for faith. In fact, given the promises of Jesus and the claims he made concerning his own life, without the resurrection the story of Christianity is embarrassing.

One of the most courageous acts of the early apostles and early Church was their honesty in recounting and retelling the life, death and resurrection of their leader, Jesus Christ. The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all brutally honest when describing the early leaders of the church. These disciples are not portrayed as men of unshakable faith. They are honestly described as thickheaded cowards. The most shameful example of their weaknesses comes after the death of Jesus on the cross. Instead of clinging to the promises of Jesus that he was meant both to die and to rise again on the third day, they allowed the simultaneous death of their hopes in Jesus as the Messiah and Christ they had hoped he was. In an instant, they scattered before fear, their hopes shattered by intense grief. As Jesus breathed his last, the disciples who were to go on to be the early leaders and evangelists of the Christian Church were not only doubting everything they had heard from Jesus while he was alive, but were distancing themselves from Jesus entirely in the hopes that they might be spared punishment, torture and perhaps the cross as well. Considering the context, a person seriously questioning the reliability of the resurrection account must then ask several questions, among them “What happened? Why did they change? Why did they continue on with such unfailing passion for Jesus as God? How did their grief turn to joy?”

As we ponder these questions, the list of possible explanations comes down to one unavoidable conclusion. The reason their grief turned to joy was because their leader lived, died and ultimately conquered death and sin as he promised through his resurrection.

John 16:16-33

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Without the resurrection there is no reasonable explanation of why these men would change their attitude, why they would include their cowardice in the Gospel narratives and why the Church after the death of Jesus not only survived, but began to grow at a furious pace in the face of mounting persecution.

Tithing: Painful Giving

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As a result of sin, we are inherently possessive when it comes to money. We become like a protective lioness with her cubs when someone reaches for our money without a reasonable cause to do so. Giving hurts, and we humans are clever creatures. We understand that giving is good, but we tactfully structure our giving in a way that will not hurt us at all. We want to have it both ways. Thus, if someone is in need of money, we will give because to refuse to give would appear selfish. However, we calculate what we have and how much we could give so that after we give we can still buy the things we had already planned to buy. Then, and only then, we approve the gesture.

Tithing stands in a distinct contrast to this mindset. Tithing is a command from God, with the same characteristics as his other commands. The commands of God always call us to become a new creation born in the spirit of God and not the spirit of sin. Therefore, in order to tithe with the spirit of God, we are called to sacrifice our sinful natures and put on the Holy nature of God. Sacrifice inherently means pain, and thus most of us avoiding tithing altogether.

Because of Abram, ten percent is most commonly associated as the biblical gold-standard of tithing. While ten percent is biblical, tithing goes deeper than that. Tithing cannot be tightly calculated in the bankbook in a predictable and mechanical manner. In many ways, 10 percent should be a base number, with God free to determine how high the number can go. For some people, 10 percent is still comfortably unobtrusive when it comes to still providing for their own comforts. In this case, 10 percent is not painful, not sacrificial and thus, not enough.

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Moved by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, this wealthy tax collector was not moved to give a mere ten percent and demand blessing or a miracle in return. He felt called by God first to give half of everything he owned,  and then to right the financial wrongs he had committed by repaying those he had cheated four times the amount he had initially stolen. This act of giving is not referenced in the scriptures as a tithe, but the spirit of the giving is the same as Abram in his encounter with Melchizedek, perfectly in line with the spirit of tithing according to God’s design.

Tithing: Constructive Giving

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For many people, tithe is simply loose change in a straw basket passed passively from church member to church member, from pew to pew. Giving when faced with the presence of “The Basket,” often stems from guilt, habit or obligation. This type of tithing is not constructive and therefore not tithing at all.

Tithing must be targeted to a purpose, a need. Tithing revolves around God, is from God and thus should always be directed by God. Tithing is not simply something that God said to do, so we follow suit. We followers of  Christ are “called” to tithe. Thus, tithing should look different to different people.   For one person, perhaps tithing should be centered primarily on the financial needs of a church. For a different person, perhaps tithing should be focused primarily on the needs of orphans or poor children in less developed parts of the world. Tithing depends entirely on how God is calling you to reinvest what he has invested in you.

God wants everything we do to highlight what he has already done for us. He wants all of our activities to increase our faith in him so that we become more aware of his presence. Tithing is no different. It should start with searching out the heart. It should lead to prayer which should lead to more prayer and then on to what God has called you to do with your money. The final step in tithing is to invest his money with a full dedication and commitment to wait, trust and watch God heal others with what he first gave you. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul mentions that he was asked by James, Peter and John to continue to remember giving to the poor in Jerusalem.

Galatians 2:9-10

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

The request is not as important as Paul’s response. He stated that this act of giving or tithing was something that he personally had already been moved to do. Paul had clearly sought God for guidance concerning his money and in turn was led to supply aid to the poor in Jerusalem. He then proceeded to organize an expansive relief effort in the Gentile churches, like the church in Corinth, to raise money and assist the church in Jerusalem during the severe famine they were experiencing. This call to tithe led to incredible testimonies Paul saw in the Gentile churches.

2 Corinthians:8-15 

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Tithing is not and must not be reduced to simply an act of giving your money to something else. Tithing requires faith. It requires a dialogue with God and a commitment to follow his guidance on where to reinvest his resources.

 

Reflection Series: Tithing

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The Church is often associated with certain duties or responsibilities to be carried out by its members. Apart from evangelizing, tithing is one of the most notable examples, recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike. However, as is the case with many issues concerning the Church, over time this holy responsibility has been misrepresented, misconstrued and misunderstood.

Why is tithing so recognizable to non-Christians? One possible explanation is that tithing concerns money: “our” money. And since Churches often are in need of assistance to operate, the plea for financial assistance is one often made from the pulpit. The key in this is the word “our.” To sinful man there is nothing more powerful than the allure of money. Money promises to fix problems. Money promises to cure diseases. Money promises to supply happiness and security. Many people have a stronger faith in money than in God Himself. And since we have to work for our money, the request to give away some of that hard-earned money is oppressive. We are willing to part with our money, as long as there is an element of investment involved that could benefit us. We feel justified in parting with our money if there is a possibility that the parting will result in our gain.

Tithing is different. Tithing involves faith. It aids things that will go unseen by our own eyes and will almost certainly benefit someone else and not us. With this in mind, most people when asked to tithe at Church feel comfortable tossing spare change into the basket, but feel unmoved to reach for a bill or a check. We view our money as “ours.” Thus, we often find ourselves responding to the request of the church to tithe unmoved, unimpressed and unwilling to give anything at all.

Tithing is an established command of God to His people in the Bible, and as is the case with God’s commands, it is not easy or possible through man’s power or effort. A true act of tithing is only possible with God’s hand firmly behind the believer. Otherwise, tithing will eventually result in resentment, frustration, bitterness and anger on the part of the giver. Therefore, a true act of tithing should be giving with four distinct characteristics. Tithing should be:

1) Giving that is Just

2) Giving that is Constructive

3) Giving that is Painful

4) Giving that is Joyful

Join us for the next four weeks as we explore this issue of tithing and what God’s Word says about its role in Christian life.

Hell: A Place of Delusion

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This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of delusion.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

Most people can relate to chasing the elusive, longing for more and settling for less. We desire fellowship, love, and presence, and often drive it away or can’t hold on to it when we have it. The tragedy is that for all our awareness of our problems, most of us do little to change the state we find ourselves in. We go year after year chasing things that repeatedly leave us dissatisfied. We go year after year making choices that do more to isolate us from others than unite us with them. If we know this to be true, why don’t we do anything to change and stop the cycle?

The answer lies at the center of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. While the Rich Man is open to his suffering and loneliness, what he isn’t open to is his desire to leave the place he is in, or to admit to where he is. Not once does he ask Abraham to take him out of hell. He instead requests satisfaction be brought to him in hell. He even believes that he remains the master to Lazarus even after Lazarus is in the Kingdom of God and the Rich Man in hell. The Rich Man is hopelessly delusional about his problems and his fate.

The terror of hell does not end suffering and loneliness. The scariest aspect of hell is that the Rich Man is hopelessly delusional about himself and his condition. In the same way an addict will deny the damage they have caused to themselves and others, an occupant of hell is forever in denial. The nature of sin is such that a person bound in it is so obsessed with, so fixated on themselves that although they suffer and although they are unhappy, they are addicted to the very suffering and loneliness they want to escape.

Sin tempts us with things that God knows will not satisfy us. But under the influence of sin we are willing to damage anything, anyone, even ourselves to have them. Sin creates delusion, and hell is the end result of sin in a human life, cementing eternal delusion on what is good for them and what they actually need.

Only Lazarus is named in Jesus’ story. This detail is not subtle at all, if one sees that the choice to only name Lazarus was made in the context of a lesson regarding hell. The named man Lazarus has an identity. He is real. He is accepted. He is loved. He is forever at peace with the Father, as Lazarus. The unnamed “Rich Man” is eternally anonymous. He does not know who he is. He does not know what he needs. He does not know how to fix what he knows is wrong. He is eternally separated from the God who gave him life, left to live out eternity in isolation, forever searching for what he will never find. His life was consumed by wealth that replaced God as the focus of his worship. Thus, his eternal state in hell echoes the priorities of his worldly life. In eternity as in life, he was simply “the Rich Man.”

Hell: A Place of Suffering

This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of suffering.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

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Describing hell as “a place of suffering” is obviously nothing new. Most people with no experience with Christianity would agree. Throughout the years, hell has been depicted in art and the media as a fiery place of torment and torture. When most people hear the word, “hell,” immediately they think of demons, devils, screaming, fire, blood, all under the terrifying and brutal umbrella of “suffering.” An oft-used tactic from the pulpit has been to illuminate these images in the hopes of scaring the congregation into an increase in attendance or in giving. Not all churches deploy this strategy, of course: many pastors illuminate these images out of sincerity to the truth that hell is a terrible place that we should be terrified of. However, whether used from a self-centered or Christ-centered pulpit, hell equals suffering.

Reading the passage in Luke’s gospel, some might be surprised to learn that the Rich Man is actually speaking from inside of hell. Aside from the mention of the burning that apparently consumes the Rich Man, the stereotypical images of hell are mysteriously absent. Where are the demons? Where are the torture tools? Where is the terrifying Satanic imagery?

What we do find is in many ways more terrifying and far more relatable. In the place of the physical suffering we often equate with hell due to the plethora of images depicting torture, we find that his suffering has much more to do with satisfaction. He has a thirst that cannot be quenched. He feels a burning sensation from within that he cannot escape. This is the suffering of hell that Jesus illustrates in this story. And it is this idea of suffering that should connect with all of us.

While most of us can live out our lives avoiding physical torture, what none of us can avoid is the internal desire for satisfaction that we can never satisfy. We all want things we cannot have, and we all have felt that aching pain of lusting after something that is forever beyond our reach. From infancy there is nothing more torturous or cruel than the idea that there is something that we are being prevented from having. What we learn from the Rich Man is that hell is where that complete dissatisfaction goes on eternally. Hell is a place where we can never be satisfied and will remain forever unfulfilled. Jesus teaches that unity with him and the Father is where we, as the children of God, find complete fullness, where our cup is allowed to overflow. Therefore, hell is a place where God is absent, the occupants remaining out of reach of that fellowship with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, forever suffering an eternal emptiness. Hell is Godless and thus, utterly hopeless.

 

Reflection Series: Hell

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Heaven and Hell. Some people assume Christianity is a religion which, if followed carefully and precisely, guarantees entrance into a personal heaven of safety, peace, love and joy. Some assume that Christianity poses impossible commands and rules that ultimately doom us to the looming hand of a judging God, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to throw us into a fiery eternity in hell to punish us for not being perfectly like him. While these assumptions are incorrect and based on sources outside of the Word of God, this two-pronged understanding of Christianity’s take on the afterlife is prevalent in today’s world.

As is the case with many topics, we have very little actual description of hell as it is mentioned in the Bible. However, one can argue that not knowing the entire scope of hell actually is a sign of God’s grace, in saving us the complete and detailed nature of hell. What we do know is that hell is a place God desperately wants us to avoid and we in turn should have a strong desire to avoid it.   In the Bible, God paints a picture of hell with few colors, but the colors he does use are enough for what we need to know about this place called “hell.” The Bible teaches us that hell is:

  • A Place of Suffering
  • A Place of Loneliness
  • A Place of Delusion

By examining these three aspects of hell we can hopefully come to a better understanding of why God gave his Son for us in order to spare us of this terrible place.

While there are many references to “hell” or “gehenna” in the Bible, our examination will focus primarily on the passage of scripture found in the Luke 16:19-31. Jesus’ description of the Rich Man and Lazarus provides us with more than enough to come to a complete understanding of hell.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

 Luke 16:19-31

Join us for the remainder of the reflection series next Thursday.